Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post 01: P. Stiles

New England is an old part of the country. European settlement there goes back to the 1600s. Not just Cape Cod, Plymouth, or Salem but also the Dutch colony of Upstate New York (Ichabod Crane country). Native American tribes like the Iroquois Confederacy were so well-organized that their political ideas contributed to the U.S. Constitution. The Amish in Pennsylvania were not the only non-anglophone group who came to the northeastern part of North America, seeking religious freedom from the Reformation. My great-grand-something uncle, Martin Van Buren, was the only American president who was not an anglophone. His native language was Dutch, the lingua franca of large sections of Upstate New York into the 19th century.

When I visited Salem one year, around Halloween, I discovered a rather disturbing truth about my ancestry. As the guide was talking about how the witch trials had spread throughout the then-massive Massachusetts Bay Colony, how reparations for the Salem Witch Trials could never be done because the descendants of both sides were so intermarried by this point, I realized she was talking about me. Not people like me – me. I was one of those descendants.

This was what I had in mind when I wrote The Mighty Quinn. I wanted to write from inside the experience of a native New Englander of how-far-back-do-you-want-to-go? But from the perspective of an outsider so that I could introduce the reader to all that through his eyes.

It's not as though horror has never been set in New England. It used to be quite a common setting for Gothic. There's Lovecraft, of course, and tales about Salem. Washington Irving's satirical “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was written about the Dutch country of New York and Shirley Jackson set “The Lottery” in my home state, Vermont. The oft-told tale of the poor bastard who keeps driving through a town he can't quite seem to leave appears to derive from Upstate New York, as well (very understandable if you've ever driven down those back roads in the fall). And Stephen King has carved out his own Maine-sized niche whose subtext I'm not quite sure readers from outside the region entirely grok.

But most of these tales either make the horror quaint (Irving) or portray people from Northern New England, especially Vermont, from an outside perspective. Vermont was off the edge of the world where dragons lurked and Vermonters were the Other to the Gothic writers. Half the time, some dude like HPL would have us engaged in a cannibal cult in a cave dug under a hill (Great fun!). Considering the way our road system is set up, I can see their point...almost. But it's still annoying.

But Vermont has a very strong culture that a lot of outsiders don't know about. It's not all harsh weather, pretty scenery and maple syrup. Where I grew up, people were proud of being native Vermonters (called “Woodchucks”), as many generations back as they could trace. Many Vermonters are of French Canadian/Native American (like my great-grandmother) or Italian (stonecutters who immigrated to Barre) descent. I grew up down the street from two dairy farms and there was a large dichotomy between the poor farmers and the rich interlopers from other states.

We have an interesting history. Some of the most important naval battles of the War of 1812 were fought on Lake Champlain, because the lake is a seaway that connects the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Hudson River. The Underground Railroad went right up through the Green Mountains during the Civil War and our Revolutionary War hero, Ethan Allen, was a drunk.

We strongly believe in the town council as the backbone of governance and I grew up learning the ins and outs of it through a student government in school. Northern parts of Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine are the “North Country.” When I was a kid, we called the people who came from points further south to ski and leaf-peep, and treated us like servants,“flatlanders.” Strangely, despite southern Quebec being flatter than southern New England, we didn't call the Qu├ębecois that, but we did have a love-hate relationship with them and the official notices like state highway signs in Vermont are all bilingual in English and French.

The nearest large city was Montreal. If we wanted to hit the big city to party, we went over the border to an entirely different country. New York teenagers came to Vermont to drink because we were the final state to give in to Reagan's arm-twisting about raising the drinking age (We also voted to impeach Bush II). We went over to Plattsburg in New York to get weird stuff like nose studs. The only good rock station was CHOM-FM, which played music that was banned south of the border, stuff like Frank Zappa and the Mothers.

In short, we were Vermonters and we were proud of it – and nobody else either knew or cared what that meant. When I wrote The Mighty Quinn, I wanted to change that a little bit, introduce some of our quirks to the world. Hopefully, I have.

Bio: Possessing a quixotic fondness for difficult careers, Paula Stiles has driven ambulances, taught fish farming for the Peace Corps in West Africa and earned a Scottish PhD in medieval history, studying Templars and non-Christians in Spain. She is the author of horror novel, "The Mighty Quinn,[]" co-written supernatural mystery novels, "Fraterfamilias []" and the upcoming “Confraternitas,” and non-fiction medieval history book, "Templar Convivencia: Templars and Their Associates in 12th and 13th Century Iberia []." She is Editor in Chief of the Lovecraft/Mythos 'zine/micropress Innsmouth Free Press []. You can find her at: